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Question DetailsAsked on 8/19/2013

I have electrical and plumbing issues, plus need some dry wall repair. Would I do better with a contractor?

The plumbing problems are elusive. Don't know exactly where the leak is coming from, but the water drips through the downstairs ceiling. Over the years I have had several plumbers/contractors try to find it, and they each one have assured me there would be no more leaks. Not so. I am very tired of it and would like to sell my townhouse in the next year or so, but how can I sell it if I can't fix it first. Have reached the point where I don't trust anyone to find it let alone fix it. Each effort has been extremely expensive.

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2 Answers

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If you have been using contractors by recommendations rather than price it seems you have a problem that is hard to find and need a contractor who can think outside the box. If you can find a contractor that works with a plumber it might be the best bet. I would open up the problem area and then plug the drain and fill the pipe to find the leak. It may be none of the previous repair men's fault to a degree. I have seen copper pipe that looks fine and they had a bad run years ago that had a bad seam. Plumber would fix and a year or so later would leak again. You really need to expose it and put a stress test (pressure test) on it. You really do need someone that can think outside the ordinary things if it is recurring.

Answered 6 years ago by ContractorDon

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A few thoughts to direct you to the source of the water, maybe:

1) have the leaks been in the same area, or all over the house. If all over, then old, corroded or defective pipe may be the problem, and a house-wide piping replacement could be in order if that is the case and is causing multiple leaks.

2) when they "fixed" the leak, did they say if it was hot or cold water or sewer pipe leaking ? Sewer water would tend to have accumulation of grunge and slimy mold along its trail, whereas water tends to leave staining and lime accumulations, and only mold if a constant supply or water.

3) when they "fixed" the leak, did they find free water coming out at the location, and if so: was it heavily corroded or wall thinned, in the pipe manufacturing seams, right next to 90's (elbows), or in solder joints - the first would indicate a general problem with water corrosivity or manufacturing possibly (which would probably apply to the entire house), the second a manufacturing problem (there were several brands in the 70's and 80's that had local thinness or seam problems), if right next to 90's possibly erosion due to cavitation if older pipe or undersized, or if in solder joints likely poor soldering joints originally, although there have been some chemical incompatibility between certain brands of pipe and certain solders and fluxes causing leaks. I came across one pipe brand and flux and solder combination that myself and 3 plumbers all did trial 90 degree elbow solder joints, and all joints could be twisted and pulled apart by hand - turned out the flux was incompatible and prevented bonding between the copper and the solder. QUITE a few leaky new houses in the area due to that one.

4) the way to find a leak is to track from the wet spot in the ceiling, moving uphill (or laterally along the tops of wood or drywall and along the bottom of joists or pipes or wires where the water flows along a member or wire or pipe until it drips off), checking for dampness with a kleenex as you go, which shows wetness that your hand cannot detect because a cold pipe with condensation feels wet to your hand, even though not enough dampness to show on a wipe or your palm. If it passes through a floor or wall then resume checking on the other side as well as checking for wetness coming from above, following the wetness until there is no wetness above you. In wood a moisture meter is useful, because it lets you know if you are moving toward (wetter) or away (dryer) from the leak when you hit a wet spot. Once you have reached the highest point that is wet, then check laterally to see if coming from the side. This typically takes a small amount of destructive testing opening up of floors and walls, but if done carefully relatively easily fixed.

5) don't discount the possibility it is a roof or roof pipe or vent penetration or (if towards outside wall) a window leak, unless continues to be wet a week or more after the last rain - could be a roof leak migrating down walls and then across the top of ceiling drywall.

6) a conscientious person, not necessarily an expert, could track the leak by wetness, wet wood, water staining, grout staining, copper bloom on pipes, lime stains where water has dried, insulation sagging or matting, etc to where it comes from. If at a sewer pipe, then a full-pipe test could confirm it.

7) A couple of other alternatives, in addition to a contractor (preferably either an eager-to-please young guy or an old-school do-it-right-or-not-at-all type), is to hire a civil engineer to track it down, who would have no vested interest in trying to sell or doing repairs. He would not fix the problem- just locate the source. Another possibility is get a home inspector who used to be a general contractor with a thermal IR scanner and preferably also a color fiber optic camera, who could pick up the wet spots in color or on the thermal IR - many energy inspectors and some home inspectors and civil engineers have these. these options likely to cost about $300-500, but probably worth it if they find the source for you so you can honestly say on the disclosure sstatement there are no known plumbing problems. Again, there would be a bit of destructive investigation and a few holes drilled for the cameras.

If you want to pursue this more and reply (using Submit Answer button below) with more detail, perhaps the contributing responders could give you better advice - we sympathize with you and would like to help more, just can't visualize your exact situation without more details, like :

1) where the leak is in relation to the outside and inside walls,

2) if more than one leak or not now or over time,

3) what rooms overly the leak(s), how many floors and attic (if any) there are above the leaking ceiling, and how far away laterally the nearest bathroom upstairs is from the wet spot in the ceiling,

4) where the prior leaks were,

5) pipe conditions when they "fixed" them and in what type of pipe (hot, cold, or sewer),

6) if there is any water consuming or holding or producing device (including cistern, hot water tank or baseboard heat furnace, steam heat furnace, or air conditioner) anywhere above the floor it is leaking through (including in the attic),

7) how close the overhead sinks, toilet, shower, or bath, etc. are,

8) are there any vents or ducts up through the roof near the leak area,

9) when was the house built

10) is roof flat roof or peaked

11) and one thing that has not been covered - what are the water and sewer pipes in the upper part of the house made of : water could be black iron (shiny black metal), cast iron (grainy black to rusty metal), galvanized steel or iron, copper, polyethylene tubing (clear plastic), butylene tubing (black plastic), reinforced polyethylene (clear plastic with a mesh visible inside the plastic), or PVC or CPVC (white or gray rigid plastic pipe). Sewer could be ABS (shiny black plastic), PVC (white plastic), HDPE (dull black plastic), cast iron. You should be able to see these under the sink, or maybe in a basement ceiling or utility room.

If you are looking for a contractor or engineer or inspector to track this problem down, another recommendation source, in addition to ratings sites like Angie's List, is neighbors who have had leak issues, and your Realtor if you are talking to one, especially if he/she has been doing business in the area for a long time.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD




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